Google’s new Smart Reply artificial intelligence can write e-mails for you

Smart Reply, a feature rolling out this week for Google's Inbox email app, can automatically read incoming emails and suggest appropriate responses. Smart Reply uses machine learning to judge the gist of an email and compose several different reply options.

The Smart Reply feature for Inbox, which will roll out this week, can automatically compose short responses to incoming emails.

Google’s already investing heavily in machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence in which computers, given a large enough mass of data to chew through, can detect patterns on their own and make judgements about how to handle the information. Machine learning powers Gmail’s spam filters and the Google Now service, which tries to predict what information a user will find helpful or interesting.

On Tuesday, Google announced that machine learning will be put to use in a new way: automatically responding to e-mails for you. 

The “Smart Reply” feature will roll out later this week to Inbox, Google’s slightly-experimental e-mail service focused on organization and time management. Smart Reply will automatically parse the text of received e-mails and suggest three responses that can be inserted with a click or a tap.

“For those emails that only need a quick response, it can take care of the thinking and save precious time spent typing,” software engineer Bálint Mikló wrote in a blog post. “And for those emails that require a bit more thought, it gives you a jump start so you can respond right away.”

There’s a lot going on under the hood of Smart Reply. At the core of the feature is a pair of deep neural networks, which are sets of algorithms that processes data at several layers at once to learn sentence structure, writing style, and tone.

“These systems generalize better, and handle completely new inputs more gracefully than brittle, rule-based systems ever could,” Google senior research scientist Greg Corrado wrote in a separate blog post.

One neural network parses the text of the incoming e-mail to capture a list of “thought vectors” – essentially, the gist of what’s being said or asked. If the e-mail contains a question, the second network will compose a simple reply that provides information to answer the query. If an e-mail asks, for example, “Do you have vacation plans yet,” Smart Reply might suggest as responses, “No plans yet,” “I just sent them to you,” and “I’m working on them.” The system also judges the intent of the proposed responses so that it doesn’t generate overlapping options that use different phrasing to say the same thing.

Smart Reply also gets more accurate with use, since the networks learn from larger bodies of text. Google’s early prototype had the propensity to respond to buttoned-down business e-mails with “I love you," since the system had identified that as a common phrase and would fall back on it when it was unsure of how to respond. The team fixed that issue by having Smart Reply check to see how often phrases had been used previously.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Google’s new Smart Reply artificial intelligence can write e-mails for you
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today